How Fun Are You?

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A couple months ago, Ken Long of L.A. Reynolds asked me to hunt down a business model for a mature industry that has survived competing with the big boxes.

Great idea. But as I mulled it over, I realized I could not think of a single industry that has done as well as garden centers. We are the mature industry that has survived.

Obviously, the way the industry banded together in the face of big box competition has helped independent retailers maintain traction. Camaraderie brought us this far. But it’s not far enough.

The Future Is Bright – Really

How can the industry compete better? The economy is already equipping it for the next phase of growth. The recession has hammered garden retailers into smarter business people. I’ve never heard so many discussions on turns and controlling costs.

What concerns me is the embattled tone that accompanies these conversations. I’m worried that being focused so entirely on challenges blinkers retailers to the future.

I look forward and I’m excited about the potential. The entire country is tired of being worried. Consumers hunger for joy and a sense of fun. And few product categories can satisfy that desire as well as flowers and plants.

Some are already tapping into that emotional trend. Look at cupcakes. It’s a product that used to be marketed primarily to children and sold in traditional bakeries. Now it’s a premium product targeting adults. They come in vivid pink or lurid green and with exotic decorations.

In short, they’re fun. And profitable.

Gift plants strike me as the closest garden product to cupcakes. Take orchids. How many homeowners can get an orchid to rebloom after three months? Many will simply throw it away and buy a new one.

For many consumers, orchids are cutflowers that last a couple months longer than expected. If that is their attitude to orchids, why not train them to feel that way about most of your 6-inch plants? Why not add a little bright color and a little fun? Maybe display it as the perfect accent to a dinner party?

And wouldn’t that all but make price a non-issue?

Farewell To An Industry Giant

Every so often, something happens that realigns your priorities in life. The loss of Don Riddle has done that for many in our industry.

Don certainly had respect from his peers, but it was his generosity that made him so loved.

The first time I met Don was at the ANLA Management Clinic in 1999. Only three months into my newly minted role as an industry editor, I moderated a GCA panel discussion that Don participated in. Don is the only one from the board that I remembered, because he made an effort to put me at ease.

I made a hash out of the job, but Don reassured me that I was a valuable participant. I knew I wasn’t, but Don had such a positive view of others, I think he was able to compliment me with honesty.

Losing him hurts. And his passing makes the important stuff obvious. It’s not payroll. Or even our jobs and businesses. All those things only serve to give us the means to be with those we love. 

We’ll miss you, Don.  

Carol Miller is group editor of Today’s Garden Center and Greenhouse Grower. You can eMail her at

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